Re: I Think There's A Problem With The Methodology Here

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what's the linguistics version of a concern troll? because that's what mark lieberman is...


Posted by: lurker | Link to this comment | 11-19-08 8:44 PM
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There are a lot of things that bother me about the Language Log, and this sort of thing is one of them.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 11-19-08 8:52 PM
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In Language Log's defense, Pullum did push back pretty hard at Liberman's theory that Sarah Palin could talk... very... great.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 11-19-08 8:57 PM
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To be fair to Liberman, whose work I like a lot, I think his point is that while it's totally fair to criticize politicians for being vague, ill-informed, or having really dumb ideas, calling what Sarah Palin does a crime against the English language misses the point. The woman doesn't know what she's talking about, and rambles in long, poorly formed sentences, but the problem is not primarily that she is bad at English. The problem is that she doesn't understand government or law.

I ran into this with my freshmen while we were discussing the results of the election after class. They were saying how they hate Palin because she drops g's on gerunds. I said Obama does it too. It's one thing to hate her particular brand of folksy rhetoric because it's deeply flawed in its argument and wildly insulting to Americans, but it's another to pretend that the biggest problem with her is that she drops g's.

And a lot of the people who complain about politicians' use of English really don't know much about what they're talking about. We might enjoy laughing at Bush's "bushisms" because they make us feel superior, but we hardly notice when Obama does it. And it ignores the larger problem, which is not Bush's stupid and evil attack on language, but his stupid and evil attack on human beings.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 11-19-08 8:59 PM
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The biggest problem with her is that her speech is yards of obfuscatory nonsense spun wildly around exactly nothing. And she's not even good at doing that. She uses "progress" as a transitive verb. If that's not being bad at English, it's being an asshole. My money's on it being both.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 11-19-08 9:02 PM
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AWB makes a good point, which is presumably Liberman's point as well. The problem I have with the actual post Liberman wrote, however, is the oddly strident rhetorical tone combined with the underwhelming rigor of the argument. This is a frequent issue I've noticed with the LL, although some of the posters are better than others. Pullum and Zwicky are generally great.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 11-19-08 9:03 PM
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Yeah, I'm not committed to the argument that Palin, particularly, is unusually incoherent. But Bush really is. And while everyone stumbles, like Obama's "57 states" line, there's something really wrong about an argument that relies on the fact that everyone stumbles to prove that no one's a poor speaker.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 11-19-08 9:03 PM
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4. Yes, but....


Posted by: Not Prince Hamlet | Link to this comment | 11-19-08 9:06 PM
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Also, the idea that people laugh at "Bushisms" because they're somehow not informed enough to recognize when somebody is or isn't capable of communicating clearly is ridiculous. People don't notice the syntactical quirks in Obama's (or, for that matter, Clinton's) speech because those quirks end up being in service of the expression of a well-formed thought. The reason the quirks in Bush and Palin's speech are so obvious is that they serve no larger expressive point, but are simply the external symptoms of a grasping, desperate attempt to haul their train of thought back someplace near the tracks.

I think it's a real problem with that kind of analysis, actually. You can point out specific features all you want, but the fact is that listening to them you can instantly percieve something going very wrong in their attempts to make a cogent-seeming point.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 11-19-08 9:06 PM
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Which, I guess, if I was going to put it into linguistics jargon, would mean that Palin and Bush's major malfunction is at the level of pragmatics, not semantics. Or at least that analyzing the syntax and semantics isn't going to tell you much about why they come across so incomprehensibly; they construct fancifully elaborate (and often thoroughly incorrect) sentences that -- if you can bring yourself to follow them -- communicate almost nothing.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 11-19-08 9:10 PM
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8: Orwell's argument is not linguistic. It's about metaphor and obfuscating prose. Liberman may be drumming pretty hard on this one, but one of LL's big projects, it seems to me, is to show that people who talk about problems as if they're linguistic when they're really conceptual or rhetorical are stoking ire about the wrong thing.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 11-19-08 9:14 PM
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LB is exactly right that the argument is shit. Among other things, note that, in the WJC quote, once he finishes clearing his throat - once he gets to, "but I think most people" - he's quite clear and articulate - two more minor stumbles, at least one of which is entirely the result of on-the-fly improving of his own grammar.

This isn't the case with either Palin or Bush - the throat-clearing is usually more inarticulate than WJC's, which is a bit of a red flag, but it's the meat of things where the speech fails to cohere, through a combination of poor grammar and poorer thinking.

Anyway, people didn't need transcripts to prove that Palin speaks like an idiot - it's the YouTube era, and the Couric interview was widely viewed, not merely quoted in writing.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 11-19-08 9:14 PM
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10: I'd actually draw a distinction between Palin and Bush. Palin sounds uninformed, and like she's not particularly good at covering the fact that she's uninformed, to me, but not like a really unusual speaker. Bush's stumbling and errors sound genuinely peculiar, on the other hand: there's not just something with the stuff he's trying to say, there's something wrong with how he says it.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 11-19-08 9:15 PM
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11: well that's a pretty silly project.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 11-19-08 9:15 PM
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The problem with Palin was exacerbated by the editing, but barring that, she sounded like a freshman madly trying to get through an exam by stringing together bits she'd remembered from the notes. And what Lieberman seems to miss is that she sounded even worse in person.

I think all it shows is that part of what makes an effective speech is in the speaking.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 11-19-08 9:15 PM
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Sounds Lieberman like this guy needs to get a job writing for Slate.


Posted by: Adam Kotsko | Link to this comment | 11-19-08 9:16 PM
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15: right. It isn't like she plowed through the false starts and then finally came up with something interesting to say. She was just trying to come up with something that sounded official and business-y, and ended up with nonsense. She should be in Dilbert!


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 11-19-08 9:17 PM
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They were saying how they hate Palin because she drops g's on gerunds. I said Obama does it too. It's one thing to hate her particular brand of folksy rhetoric because it's deeply flawed in its argument and wildly insulting to Americans, but it's another to pretend that the biggest problem with her is that she drops g's.

"I like to think I'm one part practiced folksy, one part sassy and a little dash of high school bitchy."

Wasn't she shown not to have dropped her g's when she was making speeches in Alaska? Point being, the g's were evidence of her disingenuousness, not merely a signifier that she was a hick worthy of contempt.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 11-19-08 9:18 PM
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16 and 17 are both good.

One thing I wanted to note about Bush is what people have noted over the years, that he's much more articulate and smooth when talking about being an asshole - stumbling through the bits about helping people, then really hitting his stride when he gets to talk about the death penalty or bombing the shit out of somebody. I'd be curious to know to what extent that's apparent in transcripts?

Do we have any examples of Palin speaking without notes and sounding coherent? Presumably some of the Alaska vids, but I'm thinking during the campaign. It would be interesting to see what topics bring out her articulacy.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 11-19-08 9:22 PM
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Which, I guess, if I was going to put it into linguistics jargon, would mean that Palin and Bush's major malfunction is at the level of pragmatics, not semantics. Or at least that analyzing the syntax and semantics isn't going to tell you much about why they come across so incomprehensibly; they construct fancifully elaborate (and often thoroughly incorrect) sentences that -- if you can bring yourself to follow them -- communicate almost nothing.

Exactly, which is a major problem with the LL folks, who are mostly syntacticians, trying to pull rank on everybody else with their analyses of what's going on in situations like this. A useful analysis of the issue Liberman is talking about would require some very sophisticated discourse analysis well beyond what you see on LL.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 11-19-08 9:25 PM
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A friend of mine made a remark that seems relevant, if obliquely so: "Sarah Palin reminds me of the movie Fargo -- you know, the part where I'm putting her through the wood chipper."


Posted by: Adam Kotsko | Link to this comment | 11-19-08 9:27 PM
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This is indeed a maddening post. 1. Liberman presents the Friedman-sans-punctuation and the Clinton quote alongside the Palin quote as if they were self-evidently no better--but they clearly are, in fact, more coherent. 2. Oh, great, Thomas Friedman: America's most clear-headed and well-reasoned journalists. 3. I've seen the video, and this is actually one of Palin's most coherent recent public moments.

I think, Sifu, that you want to say that the problem is at the level of semantics and pragmatics and not syntax, rather than purely at the level of pragmatics; there's plenty awry on the semantic level, too. (And, of course, the line between semantics and pragmatics is blurry at best.) But either way, you and Teo are certainly correct that the real defects in her speech are apparent at the discourse level, rather than the clause or sentence level.


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 11-19-08 9:32 PM
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I think, Sifu, that you want to say that the problem is at the level of semantics and pragmatics and not syntax, rather than purely at the level of pragmatics

I totally did, too.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 11-19-08 9:34 PM
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Not all -ing words are gerunds!


Posted by: Mr. F | Link to this comment | 11-19-08 10:00 PM
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Some are gerundives.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 11-19-08 10:01 PM
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The last time I paid any attention to the niceties of academic discourse on language the idea of anything beyond the first person present was considered very daring, and highly suspect. Now I'm at the point where the past tense seems to refer to something to which the memory of this man no longer runs. Despite that, I'm going to comment.

There seem to be an assumption here that the proper measure of Palin's speech has something to do with the clarity or presentation of ideas.

Not at all. Her speech is the type that's not intended to convey ideas, but to convey group membership and affiliation. It's a bunch of signals and flags. It's of the sort [buzzword] [buzzword] [catch phrase] [ cliche]. It's like the old joke about the prisoners in which no one tells a joke, they just identify a joke by its number. She doesn't use words to convey ideas, merely to identify concepts her customary audience already knows.

Thats because ideas don't matter, not to her and her intended audience. What matters is character, and faith and shared systems of belief. Much preaching is like this, and much ritual speechifying. So of course it sounds incoherent; as pointed out above, it sounds incoherent because it is incoherent, and that's because coherence has nothing to do with the purpose of her speech.


Posted by: Michael H Schneider | Link to this comment | 11-19-08 10:32 PM
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Posted by: | Link to this comment | 11-19-08 10:59 PM
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Some are gerundives.

Some are participles.

Has it been observed that people making fun of Palin don't, generally, wait until her speech has been transcribed to do so?


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 11-19-08 11:12 PM
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28: JRoth upthread said:

Anyway, people didn't need transcripts to prove that Palin speaks like an idiot - it's the YouTube era, and the Couric interview was widely viewed, not merely quoted in writing.

But I've put both his and your comments into a text reader, and yours *sounds* much pithier. So that's something against the argument you've been pwned.


Posted by: Stanley | Link to this comment | 11-19-08 11:25 PM
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... don't, generally, wait until her speech has been transcribed to do so?

Even worse!


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 11-19-08 11:25 PM
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The better litigators (on principle, I strongly prefer the phrase "trial lawyers") are much clearer even in transcripts than lesser lawyers. I do not include myself in this category, but it's insane to think that because some people are incoherent speakers that everyone is.


Posted by: | Link to this comment | 11-19-08 11:33 PM
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Palin has some "hick" dialectical markers, and it may be that lazy/uninformed/snobbish commentators judge those markers as part of the overall phenomenon of her empty, jargon-laden, poorly formed speech; but this laziness doesn't mean that the overall diagnosis is wrong.

It might be that someone with a different accent would be a more successful bullshitter. What's weird about Palin's failures is that she tries to do folksy, but she also seems to have a weakness for abstraction and jargon: the successful folksy orator is always concrete. It she could discuss literally everything in terms of moose and the vast disembodied head of Palin, she might do better..


Posted by: lurker | Link to this comment | 11-19-08 11:50 PM
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"As my vast disembodied head always says, you can't throw crumbs to the blackbirds when the dough don't rise."


Posted by: Cryptec Nid | Link to this comment | 11-19-08 11:59 PM
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At any rate, there does seem to be something interesting about Palins speech beyond the it having too much jargon and not containing any preformed idea she can draw on, it would be nice if someone blogged out why, instead of this silly sort of thing. Something about jargonizing new words and phrases.


Posted by: yoyo | Link to this comment | 11-20-08 12:22 AM
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Her All speech is the type that's not intended to convey ideas, but to convey group membership and affiliation. It's a bunch of signals and flags.

Like as if a page of logical operators or a page of Heidegger contained ideas or meaning.


Posted by: | Link to this comment | 11-20-08 12:32 AM
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incoherent html tags


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 11-20-08 12:33 AM
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re: 2 and 6

Ditto. I find myself getting irritated by it occasionally.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 11-20-08 12:36 AM
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Further to 37,

There's a tendency to 'Economy 101'-ness, sometimes, if that makes any sense.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 11-20-08 12:37 AM
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The lack of coherence and meaning in expression is never in the "text". I don't think humans, and possibly other beings, can even deliberately speak/write total nonsense. It is very hard for me to consider the possiblity of a meaningless utterance.

So what those who are unwilling to say:"I don't understand you" and say instead "you spoke badly." actually doing? Attempting to establish some sort of dominance, class or credentials.

Fuck, I don't even do that to my dogs. Their tail positions and wags are meaningful, I just can't translate. The fault lies entirely with me.

I really don't get the dismissive, contemptuous folks who would correct syntax or grammar rather than...well even that is an attempt at an aggressive communication, I suppose.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 11-20-08 12:54 AM
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Come to think on it, the dogs usually make a far greater effort to understand me and my foreign language and alien intelligence than I do theirs.

And I do consider them morally superior in some ways, kind and generous and patient, forgiving of my arrogance and solipsism.

But this is just another "sbeer at the hick Palin" thread. Sorry for trolling.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 11-20-08 1:01 AM
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Posted by: Cryptec Nid | Link to this comment | 11-20-08 1:08 AM
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Very Cryptec indeed.


Posted by: md 20/400 | Link to this comment | 11-20-08 1:12 AM
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I don't ever really rofl, but if I rofled, I would rofl at 21.


Posted by: Wrongshore | Link to this comment | 11-20-08 1:20 AM
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The issue is not just form but content--but I still think that doesn't determine someone's overall intelligence. I had this time where I was teaching a class that intimidated me for various reasons and I was also having some psychological difficulties and I simply babbled on the first day of class. It was like words came out, utterly unconnected to any sense, the floor was dropping out from under me, etc. I was basically as intelligent and well-spoken during the first day of class as I was in the fourth grade. (Another time this happened was when I'd spent $2,000 of this prestigious department's money to go to a postdoc interview and then became completely unable to string a coherent sentence together during the interview. I'd been wigging out before the interview without realizing that was what was happening and when I got to the interview, the pre-interview wigging out caught up with me and I became utterly unable to articulate a single thought.)

So when I watched Palin during certain moments I cringed because she was doing precisely what I imagined I had done during those moments. Basically, you choke but you spew out some words because you are required to spew them. Yet, what you say makes virtually no sense; you are filling airtime.

It's a combination of underconfidence, fear, lack of preparation, possibly only partially knowing what the hell you are talking about. Extreme self-consciousness can grip you and what you say becomes virtually nonsensical. I really felt that, at many moments, that was happening to her. This might have been projection--but I think her problem was more that she was overwhelmed and doubted her ability to rise to the occasion than that she is dumb as a shoe.

Given my own experience (and the fact I usually run the gamut from slightly articulate to very articulate) I felt that I couldn't assume she is an idiot--but she clearly sounded like she had no goddamn idea what she was talking about, much of the time. It was hard to assume she did ever know what she was talking about. There is something else going on in her verbal presentation that conveys that her brain isn't going on all cylinders besides the fact it looks convoluted on the page. Essentially, this kind of thing is possible for a lot of people who are not stupid. The brain short circuits. With Palin, she gave evidence there were moments of genuine mental clarity but they were a bit few and far between. But I am still one of those few political opponents of hers who suspects she is not at all stupid.


Posted by: ozma | Link to this comment | 11-20-08 1:44 AM
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39 and 41, that's already been tried in certain classic experiments.

I think Michael Schneider at 26 is right on about the group affiliation. She signals Church, Right-Wing-Leadership-Seminar, Church, Republican Shibboleth, Church, Rural Culture, Church.

I agree that she is probably very smart, and that her incoherence is more about her lack of something to say than about her syntax.

But.

I don't think we have an exact handle on how she uses abstractions, and that's why her speech is so fascinating -- we can hear something really weird going on, and can't say exactly what is wrong.

I guess that a starting point is that her abstractions are all objects located in a space. "That readiness" is "there," it's a quality embodied in an object in a place. Ideas are allegorically represented as chess pieces on a board, sort of.

The word "that" connotes that there is one particular readiness that the American people will recognize, as the sheep recognize their shepherd's voice and then vote for the Republican shepherd and not for the Democrat thief and robber. Any other form of readiness is not acceptable -- we must choose the right change, after all -- only the one she has specified by placing it down on her allegorical chessboard. Look: that readiness there is the one I mean.

Also, there is an implied "which" clause after each of these chess-piece-plunking-downs. Which readiness? That readiness which the American people have been looking for. Now I realize why I love the following sentence so much: "Now we kick in that fiscal conservativeness that needs to be engaged, and we progress this state with $57-a-barrel oil." Okay, she used a second "that" instead of "which," but, hey, she was speaking off the cuff. In that sentence she includes what she usually only implies. Which fiscal conservativeness? The one that needs to be engaged when oil gets cheap, not any other kind. The one I have on the board, here: I move my fiscal-conservativeness from f1 to d3, which protects my state-of-Alaska from the cheap-oil piece, so next turn I can move my state-of-Alaska to put the Democrats in check.

You say shibboleth, I say shibbowef; let's call the whole thing off.


Posted by: rm | Link to this comment | 11-20-08 5:25 AM
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So what those who are unwilling to say:"I don't understand you" and say instead "you spoke badly." actually doing?

They are asserting that it is possible to make such a distinction, and that they have made it. Arf, arf, arf, Bob.


Posted by: mcmc | Link to this comment | 11-20-08 5:31 AM
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31: In my dialect of legalese, "trial lawyer" isn't a synonym for "litigator", it's a type of litigator -- one who literally does a lot of trials, which most people don't. But certainly, an experienced and skilled lawyer can speak so as to produce a clean transcript better than most people. It's just that that skill, producing a clean transcript, isn't strongly related to speaking in a way that most people recognize as coherent.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 11-20-08 5:45 AM
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re: 47

I'm pretty sure I can do that 'trick' of speaking in coherent sentences that sound as if they are being read from a piece of academic writing, even when speaking completely off the cuff. I'm pretty sure that's a common academic skill among people who work in fields where coherent prose speech is rewarded.

But you're right that that isn't the same thing as being persuasive and isn't coextensive with oratorical skill. I'm sure lots of brilliant orators don't transcribe cleanly.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 11-20-08 5:54 AM
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If you haven't seen yourself transcribed, my guess is that you'd be surprised. The feedback I get on my speech from listeners in formal contexts is that it's unusually coherent and precise, to the point of being intimidating; my natural manner of speech is fairly persnickety and when I turn up it's apparently strikingly organized sounding.

But I still often look very weird on a transcript.

There are moves almost everyone makes in even formal speech that really don't get penalized when you're listening to them: stuff like abandoning one form of sentence structure halfway through because it's not going to work for the rest of what you have to say, and embarking on a differently structured sentence from the middle. This doesn't sound weird or dithery at all when you do it orally, but transcribes badly. What people who know how to speak so as to make a clean transcript know is what normal-sounding moves they have to avoid.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 11-20-08 6:19 AM
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re: 49

If you haven't seen yourself transcribed, my guess is that you'd be surprised. The feedback I get on my speech from listeners in formal contexts is that it's unusually coherent and precise, to the point of being intimidating; my natural manner of speech is fairly persnickety and when I turn up it's apparently strikingly organized sounding.

You might be right. I have some memory of having seen my speech transcribed but it was a long time ago and not in a context where I was trying to sound 'prose-like' [it was one of my undergrad linguistics classes]. I suspect that I fall closer to the 'transcribes cleanly' end of the spectrum than I do the other end, when speaking in formal contexts, but I'm sure your right that it's probably still fairly messy if transcribed with absolute fidelity.

I'm aware of the various phenomena that go on. I did study English language/linguistics.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 11-20-08 6:35 AM
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Well, I think Liberman's argument would at least apply successfully against 45.


Posted by: pdf23ds | Link to this comment | 11-20-08 6:48 AM
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When we're speaking in real time, the pauses and restarts and structure switches are in our auditory blind spots. We don't have linguistic-visual blind spots, though.


Posted by: pdf23ds | Link to this comment | 11-20-08 6:50 AM
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Sometimes when I really get on the roll I become aware of my higher-level grammatical continuity and start listening for when I make pauses and such. I get really excited when I get a whole long, complex sentence out without any breaks. It's pretty cool. But it doesn't happen often.


Posted by: pdf23ds | Link to this comment | 11-20-08 6:53 AM
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on the roll

People should totally start saying this.


Posted by: pdf23ds | Link to this comment | 11-20-08 6:53 AM
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AWB: "To be fair to Liberman, whose work I like a lot, I think his point is that while it's totally fair to criticize politicians for being vague, ill-informed, or having really dumb ideas, calling what Sarah Palin does a crime against the English language misses the point. The woman doesn't know what she's talking about, and rambles in long, poorly formed sentences, but the problem is not primarily that she is bad at English. The problem is that she doesn't understand government or law. "

Exactly. I've never thought she has a problem with syntax. She's just spectacularly ignorant about the things a VP candidate is normally knowledgeable about, so when she gets asked questions about them, she flounders. This is compounded by her strategic refusal to admit ignorance, so she's forced to come up with some bullshit argument on the fly, which is always going to wreak havoc on your sentence structure.


Posted by: Ginger Yellow | Link to this comment | 11-20-08 7:19 AM
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||

Huzzah! The review of the Pittsburgh Mini-meetup has been published. Read closely for bonus Unfogged lingo!

|>


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 11-20-08 7:19 AM
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There are a lot of subtle inflection and breath cues that signal to a listener "mid-sentence stop, back up a phrase or two, I'm going to rephrase that." Those don't make it into text, except as dashes.

On a separate note, I've recently noticed that I frequently pronounce "am going to" as "uh". As in, "I'm-a run up to the Zip Mart. You need anything?"


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 11-20-08 7:38 AM
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so when she gets asked questions about them, she flounders. This is compounded by her strategic refusal to admit ignorance, so she's forced to come up with some bullshit argument on the fly, which is always going to wreak havoc on your sentence structure.

I have trouble distinguishing this from the general accusation of word salad. I'm not sure that anyone is accusing the woman of being unable to, say, tell her children how to clean the house in a syntactical way - indeed, virtually the only parts of Fey's impersonation that were word salad were the direct quotes. Some of that was because it's more effective mockery if you know what she's saying, but her everyday grasp of the English language was less subject to mockery than, say, Bush 41's was.

Anyway, I think 44 and 45 were both pretty interesting. I'm not sure how LL's argument counters 44, but since I don't really buy their argument, I'm not concerned. Bush was renowned for his dog whistles to the evangelical subculture - it wasn't obvious they were dog whistles (at least not until you learned to look for them), partly because the overall syntax was usually passable. What wasn't passable was both higher and lower than syntax - word usage was usually off, and the actual arguments were shit. But, as a general rule, Bush's sentences can be fruitfully diagrammed. Palin's cannot, at least not without serious flexibility in parts of speech.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 11-20-08 7:42 AM
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56: Your link's broken.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 11-20-08 7:43 AM
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Well, damn, pfd at 51, I thought I was critiquing Palin's way of thinking about her topics, not her syntax or her accent or her grammar. But maybe I am wrong and I just reproduced the provincial elitist argument.

In my conscious mind, I think I am in agreement with Liberman's principle that it is both logically and morally wrong to make fun of a public speaker on the grounds of accent, syntax, or grammar (which is almost always customary usage in such critiques, not grammar in the linguistic sense). So, I thought I was focusing on the way Palin deploys ideas -- that's rhetoric and style, not grammar. I think LB's point was that something is indeed not-so-good about Palin's public speech, so if it's not grammar then it must be something. I thought I was getting at the something.


Posted by: rm | Link to this comment | 11-20-08 7:49 AM
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Also, I'm bugged by seeing the same "I don't think s/he's dumb" arguments about Bush revived for Palin. Obviously, they're smarter than a random retail clerk or whatever. And you need a certain level of emotional intelligence* to succeed in public life. But both Bush and Palin clearly display an incuriosity that, to me, is incompatible with any claim of "very smart." Not just the incuriosity that makes them unable to comprehend other states of mind, but the incuriosity that leads them to be actually-ignorant about readily-available facts.

If Bush and Palin clear the bar of "very smart," what words do you use for average Senators like Biden or Hagel, much less Obama?

* Or enough other intelligence to pass


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 11-20-08 7:52 AM
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Fuck.

Here.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 11-20-08 7:53 AM
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I think I am in agreement with Liberman's principle that it is both logically and morally wrong to make fun of a public speaker on the grounds of accent, syntax, or grammar (which is almost always customary usage in such critiques, not grammar in the linguistic sense).

I can't really buy this. Accent, sure, and I'm thinking about Bush more than Palin, because I saw this argument made about Bush fairly frequently in the past -- Liberman's Palin post just reawakened my reaction to it.

There genuinely do seem to me to be people, of whom Bush is one, whose speech is syntactically and grammatically unusual: who frequently produce utterances that are suprisingly and jarringly disorderly. Denying that that's the case is just false. Now, Bush gets picked on for incoherence for utterances that aren't all that unusual, but it's because he's developed a reputation, and the reputation is based on something actually peculiar about his speech patterns.

Palin, otoh, sounds much more garden-variety confused to me. I'd agree that making fun of her should probably have been confined to the content, rather than the form, of her utterances.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 11-20-08 7:59 AM
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62: Kobe!


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 11-20-08 8:00 AM
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64: LB for the base 8 win!
</Lisp Machine>


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 11-20-08 8:09 AM
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I'd agree that making fun of her should probably have been confined to the content, rather than the form, of her utterances.

I wouldn't agree to any limitation whatsoever in making fun of her. Once she uttered the words "community organizer" with such contempt, she signed on for every bit of opprobrium we are capable of heaping upon her.

Seriously, fuck her.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 11-20-08 8:14 AM
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Hey, wait a second. Heebie, you're a professor. A college must have function rooms, with a nearby room where you could set up the babysitting. Have you looked into that?


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 11-20-08 8:16 AM
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So, uh, the election's over. Why do we still give a shit about Palin?


Posted by: Di Kotimy | Link to this comment | 11-20-08 8:17 AM
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67: LB for the wrong thread fail!


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 11-20-08 8:18 AM
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67's in the wrong thread, and to 66, I didn't so much have moral qualms about the mockery as substantive qualms -- I don't think the form, as opposed to the content, of her speech was all that unusual. It'd be like making fun of her for being ugly -- not wrong because it's too mean, but wrong because it's not true.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 11-20-08 8:19 AM
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The extent to which her speech is unusual is primarily the confidence with which she produces word salad. She's not particularly hesitant as she talks about gettin' in there like a maverick to progress that learnin'.

The accent and faux-folksy slurring is just a bonus.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 11-20-08 8:29 AM
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I don't especially care about dropping Gs or trying to sound folksy. I care very much about using language as shield to try to prevent people from seeing that you can't think clearly, or using it to hide the fact that you are endorsing something awful.

From NPH's link in 8:

In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defense of the indefensible. Things like the continuance of British rule in India, the Russian purges and deportations, the dropping of the atom bombs on Japan, can indeed be defended, but only by arguments which are too brutal for most people to face, and which do not square with the professed aims of the political parties. Thus political language has to consist largely of euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness.
[...] People are imprisoned for years without trial, or shot in the back of the neck or sent to die of scurvy in Arctic lumber camps: this is called elimination of unreliable elements. Such phraseology is needed if one wants to name things without calling up mental pictures of them.
Consider for instance some comfortable English professor defending Russian totalitarianism. He cannot say outright, "I believe in killing off your opponents when you can get good results by doing so."

I support calling politicians (or anyone) on any attempt to "name things without calling up mental pictures of them." People across the political spectrum use this technique all the time, but that doesn't make it OK. If we're going to have a civic argument, it by God should be about what we're really arguing about. I'm an offender on this issue too, but the sheer level of creepiness is hard to beat (e.g. how "urban" has become a racial slur).

66, 70: In terms of what is fair game to criticize someone for, I'll go on all day about reprehensible policy beliefs. Kotsko's 21, on the other hand, is extremely offensive. I don't care how reprehensible someone's policy is, that's a rotten thing to say.


Posted by: Witt | Link to this comment | 11-20-08 8:37 AM
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62: Comity!


Posted by: Minivet | Link to this comment | 11-20-08 8:45 AM
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Posted by: SMFD | Link to this comment | 11-20-08 9:06 AM
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Also, I'm bugged by seeing the same "I don't think s/he's dumb" arguments about Bush revived for Palin. Obviously, they're smarter than a random retail clerk or whatever.

They have a certain low cunning, to be sure.


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 11-20-08 9:27 AM
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I am a very good judge of IQ and W Bush is clearly in the 100 range and Palin is clearly in the, ummm, about 115 range.

And I don't think it is fair to slur random retail clerks, even those annoying old guys at Home Depot that potter over to help but instead slow you down immensely, merely doing what you were doing but doing it slower, and not concerned with price.


Posted by: Tripp | Link to this comment | 11-20-08 9:33 AM
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The thing is, sometimes it's tough to draw the line between criticizing someone's ideas and someone's language. That interview with Charlie Gibson (?) where Palin was asked what she thinks of the Bush doctrine, for example. She fumbled with her speech, but she also didn't know what the Bush doctrine was until the interviewer explained it, and her answer was ambiguous about endorsing it or not. Criticizing her for the first problem is linguistic nitpicking, criticizing her for the second is raising a substantive issue about competence, but criticizing her for the third problem could be either or both.

As for transcripts, how fine-grained the transcript is makes a difference. In some situations like courtrooms you need a record of every sound someone makes to unpack their meaning, and in those transcripts anyone would look stupid, yes. But in other situations like a politician's interview we just want a record of their ideas. But the transcript of the Clinton quote could have focused on complete words and still been every bit as accurate.

Would the - I think most people just think if the risk is going to be- if there's going to be a risk taken, I'd rather take it than have the government take it for me. I don't think it's very complicated, so I think that those who believe that it's safer and better for people to have the public do the investment, or the government do the investment, have to bear that burden.

If a transcript of this had appeared in a newspaper, that's probably what it would have looked like. It's still 100 percent accurate; it's just designed to reveal information about the speech and speaker rather than about the nature of transcripts. His first inclination is a hypothetical question, then an appeal to popularity, before settling on the safest, most inoffensive option: his personal opinion of a third-person action in the passive voice. He fumbles pretty severely at first and at least a bit throughout. He consistently states that he supports some kind of private accounts but demonstrates that he understands the concerns of those who disagree with him.

This level of detail conveys what it's actually like to listen to speech, by filtering out the stuff that our brains filter out and leaving all the rest. This leaves Clinton looking at least of average intelligence, but would still make Palin look like an idiot, I think.


Posted by: Cyrus | Link to this comment | 11-20-08 9:45 AM
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76: Oooh, what am I? Can you guess my weight, too? They used to be so much closer.


Posted by: Wrongshore | Link to this comment | 11-20-08 9:47 AM
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I, myself, only put on fat in the brain. Every pound I put on makes me that much more superintelligent. And top-heavy.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 11-20-08 9:52 AM
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re: 78

That's a point. My weight hasn't been lower than my IQ for .... years.

There's bound to be some money making fad possibility in it.

"The IQ Diet... why your brawn should never exceed your brain, by Dr Bobworth McBobless"


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 11-20-08 9:56 AM
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The problem with W, and to some extent Palin, is that they are "Johnny One-notes." They've got the one character down pretty well, but that is about all they can do.

And as someone from MN, one of the places where Palin supposedly sounds like she comes from, I say she sounds like someone exaggerating the accent and more or less faking it.


Posted by: Tripp | Link to this comment | 11-20-08 9:56 AM
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Posted by: | Link to this comment | 11-20-08 9:58 AM
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45:And there we have it. Anyone who thinks Stein, in Tender Buttons was writing nonsense, or attempting to write nonsense or pure abstraction, hasn't the imagination or the empathy to be able to even read the fucking title. Clits, fool.

I have stated my position on this on this forum before. There are no bad writers, only bad readers.

Watched an Ovation doc on Piet Mondrian a short while back. Hughes held the position that the problem, the insanity of Mondrian wasn't a lack of meaning behind his geometries, but the depth of Theosophist substance Mondrian thought he was putting into each work. Hughes:"Mondrian was crazy, but the paintings are not."

Incoherence is in the eye of the beholder.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 11-20-08 10:05 AM
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Liberman's back in the game. He says LB has shown him the error of his ways. Well, kinda.


Posted by: Wrongshore | Link to this comment | 11-20-08 10:07 AM
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Mondrian is terribly poorly served by reproductions. I saw a Mondrian show at MOMA a while back, and paintings I was perfectly familiar with and bored by in reproduction were astonishing in person. I wanted to steal half the paintings.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 11-20-08 10:08 AM
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84: Hey, cool. I'm always astonished that anyone other than the regulars reads this stuff.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 11-20-08 10:11 AM
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Intentional fallacy? To be honest, this stuff confuses me, and I had a mixed reaction to Hughes.
Part rage, part laughing with him.

Should we use Mondrian's idea that vertical black lines repesented the male principle, and horizontal black lines represented the female when we view his works? Or should we forget it?


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 11-20-08 10:13 AM
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Palin comes from an area (Matanuska) settled by Minnesotans during the depression. She's supported a state-subsidized program to do symbolic dairy farming in an area where it's a money-loser.

An ex Wobegon local came through just last week who'd settled in Alaska and knew the Palins. She said that she liked Alaska's milder winters, though the five hours of winter daylight took some getting used to. More locals than I can count have settle in Alaska -- I happen to know about five, but there are many more.

What I really wanted to post on here was schadenfreude, though (which is wrongly deprecated).

Watch lame-duck Dubya being snubbed by an entire line of G20 leaders.

Tom Friedman's cash cow is dead. As of yesterday it had lost 99% of its value, and bankruptcy is now expected.

That poor motherfucker. When I was cursing the darkness, he insisted on lighting candle after candle, and now look at him. It's going to be FUN! seeing if he changes his tune now that he's only worth seven figures (or maybe low eight figures) instead of ten.

I love orders of magnitude! The more the better!



Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 11-20-08 10:29 AM
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re mondrian: is the theosophy the wardrobe-portal into the narnia of the paintings (in which case, yay!) (potentially); or are the paintings the the wardrobe-portal into the narnia of theosophy (in which case, meh if not yuk) (unless, y'know, yay!)?

the mondrian estate are real persnickety b4st4rds when it comes to HOW his pix are reproduced -- they demand a colour page proof (and also vet what stuff it's next to): part of me sez good for them, but another (more impatient) part says AUGHGHFGHRGH this is taking far more time than it needs to



Posted by: tierce de lollardie | Link to this comment | 11-20-08 10:31 AM
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Students write much more incoherently and have a ton more spelling and grammatical errors when they are grappling with hard concepts. As they revise an essay with a focus on clarifying their ideas, they naturally clean up the spelling and grammar.

The same is true with speech - you sound more incoherent when you're out of your league on the content.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 11-20-08 10:32 AM
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Sorry. There are apparently priors & assumptions used here to make this conversation useful, interesting, and entertaining that I find difficult.

That a grammatical sentence is more "meaningful" than an ungrammatical sentence, for instance.

I blame Joyce.

I may try to see if Austrian economics and Murray Rothbard make any sense. To me. I am sure they will look pretty.

Is there much difference between a statement that is "wrong", one that is "nonsense", and one that is "ugly?" Never mind.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 11-20-08 10:39 AM
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Students write much more incoherently and have a ton more spelling and grammatical errors when they are grappling with hard concepts.

ARG YES. I don't know how many times I've been at a workshop for composition instructors when we're discussing an example of a bad paper and everyone starts going off about run-ons and fragments and misspellings, etc. And I'm the asshole who says, "But this person doesn't know what she's talking about! We can't assume she doesn't know how to write a sentence just because her writing goes all shitty when she feels confused and intimidated by the material!"

I see it happen especially with writing about poetry. I assign a poetry analysis, and suddenly, otherwise-excellent writers start misspelling their own names in a panic. I find the same is true when writing on my blog, even. If I don't really know what I think about an issue, I edit and find crazy sentence errors or just bad, repetitive prose.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 11-20-08 10:42 AM
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The same is not true with speechcommenting on Unfogged - you sound more incoherent when you're out of your league on the content.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 11-20-08 10:46 AM
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Students write much more incoherently and have a ton more spelling and grammatical errors when they are grappling with hard concepts.

This seems right. I wish I'd been able to articulate it back when I was teaching and grading papers.


Posted by: Bave Dee | Link to this comment | 11-20-08 10:51 AM
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OK, and kudos to Lieberman for responding, but I still think it's a pretty lame response - basically shrinking his point down to nothingness. I also kind of think that, while there's obvious truth that media coverage can have enormous impact on our impression of someone's speech, it's ridiculous to suggest that that's all there is. Palin is actually a really bright-line case of this, because we all met her at the same time - she wasn't some DC insider that the press already had a strong opinion on. Indeed, the initial press narrative was along the lines of 'can-do Heartland political phenom,' not 'gibbering idiot.' But then she started gibbering on national TV, and the narrative had to change (and note that there was a definite lag between when her polling turned negative and when the press stopped saying that she was a boost for McCain).

But even on the broader point, I think the media is pretty limited in how far they can skew the general perception of a public person's speech - hearing speech is (I'm pretty sure) hardwired into us similarly to how facial recognition is. You can neither convince me that Palin is ugly nor that she's a good talker. There are certainly modes of speech, and it can be easy to miss a speaker's effectiveness if you're not tuned into the right mode (religious speech is less effective in the ear of the unbeliever, academic can sound gibberish to the layman), but that's not the same as hearing somebody's speech and recognizing that it's, well, word salad. Not even wingnuts defended Palin's speaking on the merits - they talked about how awful Couric is, or emphasized her non-speaking characteristics.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 11-20-08 10:58 AM
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My weight hasn't been lower than my IQ
i recalled an old joke that poor posture is a sign of heavy brains


Posted by: read | Link to this comment | 11-20-08 10:59 AM
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73: Good catch, Minivet.

BTW, you all remember the other day when I asked about pronouncing 'comity'? Now you know how it came up.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 11-20-08 11:00 AM
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Posted by: | Link to this comment | 11-20-08 11:54 AM
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Posted by: | Link to this comment | 11-20-08 12:05 PM
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There are certainly modes of speech, and it can be easy to miss a speaker's effectiveness if you're not tuned into the right mode (religious speech is less effective in the ear of the unbeliever, academic can sound gibberish to the layman), but that's not the same as hearing somebody's speech and recognizing that it's, well, word salad.

Disagree.

There seems to be an assumption that coherence, meaning, somehow inheres in the words themselves; that it's a quality of the speech.

On the contrary, coherence (meaning) arises in the audience in response to the speech; it inheres in the interaction between the speech and the audience. Thus LL is quite right to point out "Listeners are also variable." While people do, in casual conversation, say "that is gibberish" what they're really indicating is that to them, at this time and place, no meaning aries from hearing the speech. When I hear a language I dont know, a language of another culture (whether it's evangelical Christianity, Uzbek, poetry, or quantum physcs) I am indeed unable to distinguish word salad from coherent speech. Of course, if these foreigners merely speak slowly and loudly, it all becomes clear to me.

Where are the epistemologists and litCrit people of yesteryear? They'd be able to make understanding arise in the readers' minds so much better than I.


Posted by: Michael H Schneider | Link to this comment | 11-20-08 12:31 PM
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wrongshore

76: Oooh, what am I? Can you guess my weight, too? They used to be so much closer.

Sorry, not enough input yet. Would you comment more please? I've sussed out some of the regulars, but not you.

John - 88 - thank you! Oh man but I love me some schadenfreude, at least in this case. There is an old theatre adage that you should be good to the people you meet on the way up because you will meet the same people on the way down.

Tom Friedman can cry me a river. Bah.


Posted by: Tripp | Link to this comment | 11-20-08 1:16 PM
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But then she started gibbering on national TV, and the narrative had to change*...

*Slowly. One of the most surreal moments of the campaign for me was watching a panel on CNN discuss why she did so "well" at her initial intro, the convention and on the stump but so poorly in her first two interviews. These were adults. I thought they should have followed it with a panel on "Why do movie actors have such a good sense of timing?" and "Boy does Alex Trebek know a lot of different stuff."


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 11-20-08 1:42 PM
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Hmm. I kind of agree with 100's disagreement with me. I guess the issue is that I expect a politician running for national office in my country to be speaking a language I can comprehend, if not agree with.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 11-20-08 1:49 PM
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Bob, at 83, wow, that is some major assuming there, that, okay, is expressed in that special internet flamingness that we don't need much more of on the internet, in terms of "this is a pretty restricted medium so there's not always time to make yourself totally, like, clear," so, again, we bring that negative capableness when we read comment threads that doesn't always assume that one-liners in a blog comment are complete statements of a reader's interpretive capableness, you know?, and we think about, in terms of discussing something like poetry, asking for that clarification there when it's a situation of unclearness there.

For the record, I think Tender Buttons is about much more than clits, and any reader who would reduce it that way is an automaton devoid of imagination, soul, or conscious thought . . . wait, strike that . . . is doing a reductive reading. It's also about nipples, belly buttons, noses, earlobes, toes, fingers, and other body parts. And it's about dinner parties, food, furniture and houseguests. And it's an experiment to see whether or not deformed language loses its meaning, to see what "nonsense" means, to see what arrangements of black marks on a white page can look like, and to find music in syllables, and to suggest to readers that they will never be able to describe what such a text is really about without being unconscionably reductive. So, it's incumbent on all of us to include a complete reading of everything we link to because the conversation reminds us of it.


Posted by: rm | Link to this comment | 11-20-08 1:49 PM
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H-G at 90, definitely, and that's why I often prefer the tortured-syntax writers to the smooth 5-paragraphers. They are learning something.


Posted by: rm | Link to this comment | 11-20-08 1:50 PM
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My hilarious "close palin" HTML tag was interpreted as real HTML by the HTML reader. Oh, well.


Posted by: rm | Link to this comment | 11-20-08 1:54 PM
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If anyone's still around, I'm curious about the underlying argument on the distinction between polished, written and spoken speech. This is something I've noticed in theatre for a while. For some playwrights (and even scriptwriters) the written lines seem relentlessly artificial -- people just don't talk this way, in long polished well-formed sentences. It seems like that seriously contributes to the stylized, mannered feel you often get from live theatre, even recent plays. Is that just something people should role with in representing speech, an acceptable convention, or should people try to bring artistic representations closer to reality?

Altman movies always seem avant-garde just because he allows some of this to happen...


Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 11-20-08 1:59 PM
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sorry, haven't had time to read the thread, glancing up it's possible that this was extensively dealt with...


Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 11-20-08 2:00 PM
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104:Of course, everything you said.

"Clits" referred exclusively to the title, and did not attempt to include all possible interpretations of the title. But "Tender Buttons" is not open to every interpretation, nor is it devoid of meaning.

Like Schneider said in 100, there have to be philosophers and literary scholars around here who know a lot more about where meaning resides than I. Probably in the engagement of of a socialized reader with text.

The original linked post by Liberman seemed a fair attempt at understanding what Palin was saying or attempting to say.

(I am not sure how I would attempt to prove "there is no such thing as a poor speaker". For me, it is a humanist article of faith.)


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 11-20-08 2:35 PM
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Hey, 104.1 is really good.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 11-20-08 7:51 PM
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Palin appears to have figured out that the key to getting away with saying nothing in particular is to have something vaguely disturbing going on behind her.


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 11-20-08 11:15 PM
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I assume she'll give her next address from the airport.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 11-20-08 11:23 PM
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I wonder what goes on in the men's rooms at the Ted Stevens International Airport.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 11-20-08 11:38 PM
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113: I hear renovation negotiations are just toe-to-toe at this point.


Posted by: Stanley | Link to this comment | 11-20-08 11:47 PM
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In a blatant attempt to fuck up my joke, Craig apparently voted for the ADA.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 11-20-08 11:51 PM
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You fact-check your jokes?


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 11-21-08 12:01 AM
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In the video linked in 111, she says, "my son's Stryker Brigade is safe," but I first heard, "my son, Stryker Brigade, is safe."

Entirely possible, if Trig ends up with a younger sibling.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 11-21-08 7:29 AM
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117: Hmm, I was thinking William Ayers Palin, so she could keep dog-whistling Ayers in her 2012 run.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 11-21-08 7:49 AM
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